The Making of Maple Syrup
Maple syruping (Sugaring) is a “must do” hobby for us Minnesotans. I don’t know about you but I’ve been fooled all these years into thinking that my favorite maple syrup, the one in the distinctive bottle, was actually maple syrup! In reality it’s water, high fructose corn syrup, sugars, and maple flavoring…..FLAVORING…how sad is that? Over the years, I’ve learned to read the labels and I’ve also had to pay for what I want. The price for real maple syrup can be as much as eleven dollars for an eight ounce bottle, but I figure I’m worth it!
The timing of the sugaring season corresponds to alternating days above and nights below freezing. These alternating temperatures are essential to create the pressure necessary to move sap within the tree. For us in Minnesota, this typically occurs during the month of March. However, every year is different and sugaring can take place during February or as late as April. Once the temperatures stay above freezing, the season is over.
The process of making maple syrup is easy to do, it will not harm the trees and requires minimal investment. The only drawbacks are in the time it takes, the processing can be messy, and the muddy, wet, unpredictable weather during that time of year. Syrup can be made from any of the maple species and Box Elder, with the highest concentration of sugar found in the sap of the Sugar Maple tree.
Grades of Syrup
There are four grades to maple syrup, which are recognized by the sugaring industry. The grading of syrup depends on the time of season that the syrup is harvested, darker grades always produced toward the end of the season. They range from light to dark, with more robust maple flavor coming from the darker grades. From light to dark they are: Fancy (complex flavors with a hint of Vanilla flavor), Grade A medium amber (also known as a table pancake syrup), Grade A dark amber (excellent on oatmeal and ice cream), and Grade B (a cooking grade).
A drill with a 7/16” or 3/8” drill bit
Spiles or tapping spouts (you can even make your own out of dowel rods)
A filter material (cheesecloth)
Large boiling pan (something low and wide)
To tap a tree be sure to choose a trunk whose diameter is greater than ten inches. Drill a slightly upward angled hole anywhere from two to four feet above the ground and to a depth of about three inches. Using a hammer, gently tap the spile into the hole making sure not to hammer it in too deep, this can cause splitting of the wood and loss of sap. Have your container handy, as your last step is to place the container below the spile. Be sure to have some kind of cover available to keep all of the debris and rainwater out of your solution. Empty your containers daily and process your sap as soon as possible. If you have to wait, temporarily store the sap in a cool, dark location.
Recommended Number of Taps Per Tree Trunk:
Diameter Number of Taps
Less than 10” 0
10” to 14” 1
15” to 19” 2
20” to 24” 3
25” or greater 4
To process the sap simply boil and allow the water to evaporate off your syrup. Ideally it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup, so it is best to start this process with at least 10 gallons of raw sap. Huge amounts of water will be boiled off so we recommend this process to occur outdoors (I have seen condensation running down windows when done indoors). Pour your sap into a large, wide cooking pan and start to boil. As water evaporates, continue to pour more sap into the pan, adding little bits at a time to ensure that the boiling continues. As the water eventually evaporates off and your solution becomes syrup the temperature will begin to rise. When it reaches 219 degrees, the sap is now your golden nectar! Simply strain the syrup through cheesecloth (or other filtering material), pour into jars, and refrigerate.